2002 Isuzu Rodeo Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
This Rodeo's no bucking bronco.An old amigo.
Isuzu Rodeo offers a lightweight V6 engine, push-button four-wheel drive, sturdy construction and lots of cargo space. It combines handsome looks, a confident feel, and nimble highway manners on the road, with reasonably good capability off road.
Its dual-mode semi-active suspension system continuously adjusts to provide better handling and stability, while its drive-by-wire throttle is designed to deliver improved response and efficiency. Its optional all-aluminum 3.2-liter V6 delivers 205 horsepower. Once known as the Amigo, the Isuzu Rodeo Sport is a spunky little two-door sport-utility vehicle that comes in hard and soft-top versions.
The Rodeo Sport should enjoy a slight performance advantage over the four-door Rodeo on and off the road, thanks to its shorter wheelbase and lighter weight. It is, after all, simply the Amigo by another name, with the same short, stout body and semi-convertible soft top; the same rugged four-wheel drive and optional V6 power. And yes, a glass-window hard top is still available for travelers who want more weather protection than the soft-top affords.
The Rodeo is available in three trim levels: S, LS, and LSE. It comes with a choice of two-wheel drive or four-wheel drive.
Two engines are available: a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower is available only in 2WD S models. The 3.2-liter V6 comes standard on LS and LSE models and is available as an option on the S model.
A four-speed automatic transmission comes standard on LS and LSE. The S model comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission and optional with the automatic.
Standard equipment on even the basic Rodeo S ($18,380) includes speed-sensitive power steering, four-wheel antilock brakes, dual air bags, tinted glass, remote keyless entry, cargo convenience net, AM/FM/cassette stereo and skid plates under the radiator and fuel tank.
The V6 version ($21,265) adds anti-lock brakes, cruise control, a tilt steering column. 4WD versions ($24,695) add rear-wheel disc brakes, shift-on-the-fly transfer case and skid plate.
LS 2WD ($25,085) models add power mirrors, variable speed intermittent windshield wipers, air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, an in-dash 6-CD changer, retractable cargo cover, remote keyless entry, theft alarm, color-keyed carpeted floor mats, and a useful power outlet in the cargo area by the back door.
LS 4WD ($27,745) models also get a limited-slip rear differential.
Luxurious LSE 2WD ($29,295) and LSE 4WD ($31,730) come with fog lights, wood grain interior, heated power mirrors, power moonroof with sunshade, power reclining front seats, leather seating surfaces and Isuzu's Intelligent Suspension Control system.
Isuzu also offers an array of comfort, appearance, and preferred equipment packages. New for 2002 is the Chrome Package for the LS 4WD ($1,815) that includes 18-inch chrome alloy wheels, chrome tube side steps, chrome taillight trim and dual-mode intelligent suspension control.
Again for 2002, Rodeo comes with a generous 10-year/120,000 mile powertrain warranty, covering defects in materials or workmanship in the engine, transmission, suspension, steering assembly, and axles. It does not cover routine maintenance or adjustments. The basic warranty is still 3 years/50,000 miles, with 6 year/100,000 mile corrosion protection. The Rodeo Sport comes in two-wheel-drive and two four-wheel-drive versions. 4WD versions have automatic transmissions.
The base 2WD Rodeo Sport comes with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine and a hard top for $16,100. The soft top version is $16,375. Add an automatic transmission and the hard top with a four-cylinder engine starts at $17,100.
Insert a 3.2-liter V6 engine and automatic transmission into the 2WD Rodeo Sport and the price is $19,295 for the hard top and $19,570 for the soft top.
The list of standard equipment is generous, but air conditioning costs $1,000 as a stand-alone option. The Preferred Equipment Package for V6 models ($2,320) includes air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, floor mats, remote keyless entry, a six-CD changer, cargo convenience net, front door courtesy lights, dual horns and a cargo tray.
For 2002, all Rodeo Sports come standard with alloy wheels.
Except for last year's new eight-port grille, flush-mounted headlights and revised front and rear bumpers, the Rodeo's exterior appearance hasn't changed significantly since the major reworking it received in 1998. The first decision when buying a 2002 Rodeo Sport is whether to get the soft top or the hard top. Which you choose says a lot about your lifestyle and where you live. The soft top looks best turning onto Pacific Coast Highway in Newport Beach on the way to the Hungry Valley off-road park. The hard top looks ready to head into Michigan's Upper Peninsula for a week of trout fishing.
Although they cost less, hardtop models look more upscale and are ultimately more practical than soft-top models. Made of polypropylene, the hard top covers the rear half of the body formerly occupied by the fold-down soft top. The hard top comes only in black and is non-removable. (Isuzu officials said their research indicated most Jeep Wrangler owners never removed their removable hard tops.) Compared with the soft top, the hard top provides better soundproofing, better visibility with its glass windows, improved weather protection, and heightened security for valuables. It comes with a heated rear window, and neatly hides the huge rear roll hoop and support bars. The hard top also lends the Rodeo Sport a more handsome and sophisticated appearance. It complements the already athletic look of the lower body, where wheel wells are packed with 16-inch mud-and-snow radials.
If you opt for the soft top, you'll want to remove it when the weather permits. You'll find it easy to remove. By releasing two interior clamps, unzipping the rear and side windows and unsnapping the top from the roof frame, the top can be removed and stored. Rear and side windows are replaceable should they become scratched or lost.
Adding to the Rodeo Sport's visual appeal are small optional fog lamps and art deco taillights. The large rear tailgate door, with its relatively short window, eliminates the square appearance of most sport-utilities. Blister fenders with the optional gray overfenders and form-filling tires add an appealing muscular demeanor. The spare tire-mounting bracket supports a high-mounted rear stop lamp that is fastened to the lower portion of the tailgate door. When the tailgate is opened, the spare swings with it, allowing safe and easy access to the curb whether the soft top is up or down.
The Rodeo's seat bottoms are big and deep and provide good support. Most of the controls are well placed and easy to operate, though the windshield-wiper post took awhile to figure out.
On the downside, interior passenger space, particularly headroom, is still limited for taller people. The Rodeo seats five, but rear-seat passengers should be children or short adults. The optional moonroof further reduces front headroom by an inch, which is a lot, although people shorter than 6 feet should still find headroom adequate.
However, the Rodeo offers abundant cargo space, more than 81 cubic feet of it with the rear seat folded down. That tops most other like-sized SUVs, particularly the Nissan Xterra at only 65.6 cubic feet. The Rodeo boasts slightly more space than the Ford Explorer and Toyota 4-Runner.
We dropped the back seat and loaded the cargo area with a mountain bike, a very large float tube (a giant truck inner tube encased in nylon with a backrest that sticks up about 2 feet on one side), a couple of fly rods, and some other miscellaneous fishing gear. The Rodeo swallowed it all with room to spare. The 2002 Rodeo Sport interior is straightforward and utilitarian in appearance. The dash and center console are in a standard arrangement. The floor shifter in four-wheel-drive models can be easily reached from the driver's seat. The seats could use a greater range of adjustments and a bit more lumbar and side support. Also, the steering wheel isn't perfectly aligned with the driver's seat, a common occurrence on many vehicles, but more noticeable on this one. Operating the radio underway is a challenge with buttons that are hard to read.
In the back seat, there's enough room for three adults. Folding the rear seat down reveals 62 cubic feet of cargo room. Climbing up and into the back seats isn't easy, however, because the passage is narrow.
The hard top comes with two moonroofs. The front moonroof has a tilt option and can be removed. The rear moonroof can also be removed. The most obvious benefits of the hard top are the glass side and rear windows in place of the somewhat fussy zip-in plastic units on the soft-top. The glass dramatically improves visibility out the sides. A rear defroster and wiper are standard.
The Isuzu Rodeo is nimble and responsive. Its compact size makes it a joy to drive. It has enough power to move through crowded freeways and zip around on busy city streets. The steering is precise and sure.
The 3.2-liter V6 offers good power for the open road. The available 2.2-liter four-cylinder, while well built and reliable, seems too small for a vehicle that tops 3600 pounds.
The computer-controlled suspension provides a smooth and pleasant ride on the highway. We found the Rodeo to be agile and sure on paved mountain roads. The Intelligent Suspension Control monitors vehicle speed, engine rpm, brakes, and input from g-force sensors mounted on the chassis. A computer then directs step-motors that control shock valve blow-off points to adjust compression and rebound rates. The intent is to provide a smoother ride and reduced brake-dive and body roll.
Overall, the Rodeo offers a stable ride and responsive handling, a benefit of its ladder frame with eight cross-members and box-section main rails. Steel tubes in the doors, in addition to providing better passenger protection, also make the body more rigid, adding to inherent stability and solid handling.
Rodeo's dependable four-wheel drive system is a part-time, shift-on-the fly setup. At speeds below 60 mph you simply push a button to shift into 4WD-high. To drop into 4WD-low you need to stop and shift a floor-mounted lever. All 4WD Rodeos come standard with a limited-slip rear differential and rear disc brakes (2WD Rodeos have rear drums). The Rodeo rides well at moderate speeds (about 30 mph) on washboard roads.
The four-wheel anti-lock braking system works as expected and keeps the vehicle straight and true in emergency stops. In fact, the ABS even works well on rough dirt roads where other systems seem lacking.
The four-speed automatic transmission features a winter mode. When it's engaged, the transmission starts out in third gear to prevent wheelspin on icy or snowy surfaces. The transmission also has a power mode that gives better acceleration by raising up-shift points. Both modes are controlled by well-placed pushbuttons in the center console. The available 3.2-liter V6 revs quickly, providing quick getaways from intersections. Strong low-end torque peaks at 214 pounds-feet at 3000 rpm. The Rodeo sprints from 0 to 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, a strong performance for a small SUV.
Wide 245/70R16 tires are standard on all Rodeo Sport models. They don't provide a lot of grip in paved corners, but the Rodeo Sport's handling is very predictable and that makes it entertaining to drive. The 16-inch tires do offer excellent compliance with the coil-spring suspension, which smoothes out the ride considerably, although the rear tires do have a tendency to bounce around over really big bumps.
With its ladder-type frame and live rear axle, the Rodeo Sport retains some of its truck heritage. It shudders over bumps. In comparison, the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, which are based on passenger-car chassis, ride smoother but cannot match the off-road capability of the Rodeo.
On smooth highways, the V6 gallivants happily. It's a pleasure to drive on curvy mountain highways where torque is at a premium. The transmission shifts smoothly and the power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering responds well. At lower speeds, the steering is precise, which is equally helpful when negotiating crowded city streets or tight dirt trails. The Rodeo Sport handles much better and is more fun to drive than the similarly priced Kia Sportage.
Four-wheel-drive models come with disc brakes front and rear, which provide ample stopping power. Drum brakes in the rear are standard for two-wheel-drive models. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard on all Rodeo Sports. With all that off-road suspension travel, there is some nosedive under hard braking.
When equipped with the automatic transmission, the Rodeo Sport can be shifted from rear-wheel drive to four-wheel drive on the fly. Simply press the button on the dashboard. Most off-road hazards don't occur on the fly, but it's nice not having to stop when the pavement turns to gravel. For extreme off-road conditions, stop and shift into the low-range gears for maximum torque by engaging a floor-mounted lever. The Rodeo's part-time four-wheel-drive system is designed for loose surfaces and should not be used on dry pavement.
The Rodeo Sport really shines on steep, difficult grades. We learned this in the San Bernardino Mountains where the Rim of the World Pro Rally is held. The torque of the V6 works well with the tough but compliant tires. Shifting into four-wheel drive, we drove over huge rocks and climbed through deep ruts. We explored craggy logging roads loaded with large rocks near Lake Arrowhead, thankful for galvanized steel shields that protect the radiator and fuel tank.
Isuzu Rodeo delivers agile handling, off-road capability and roomy cargo space at an attractive price. This is an underrated SUV that deserves to be on more shopping lists. The 2002 Isuzu Rodeo Sport offers distinctive, funky styling that helps it stand out from a herd of boxy SUVs. The hard top appeals to buyers who want practicality and a more sophisticated appearance, while the soft top model delivers top-down, fun-in-the-sun motoring.
One of the most attractive features of the Rodeo Sport is its price, which is competitive with the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and other small SUVs. Yet Rodeo Sport offers more space and more driving entertainment.
The Rodeo Sport is, in a word, endearing. It may no longer be an Amigo, but it's still a friend.
S ($18,380); S V6 ($22,265); LS ($25,085); LSE ($29,295); S V6 4WD ($24,695); LS 4WD ($27,745); LSE 4WD ($31,730). 2WD 4-cylinder: hard top 5-speed ($16,100); Soft top 5-speed ($16,375); hard top automatic ($17,100)
2WD V6: hard top automatic ($19,295); soft top automatic ($19,570)
4WD (all V6): soft top automatic ($22,045); hard top automatic ($21,770).
Lafayette, Indiana. Lafayette, Indiana.
Options As Tested
Preferred Equipment Package ($2,195) includes air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, floor mats, remote keyless entry, AM/FM with cassette and 6-CD changer, cargo convenience net, front door courtesy lights, dual horns, cargo tray; fog lights ($70); Titan Gray overfenders ($225).
Rodeo LSE 4WD ($31,730). 4WD V6 Hard Top Automatic ($20,360).
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